WE LOOK AT THE LIFE & LEGACY OF JAKE BURTON
22nd November 2019 | James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
Last modified on December 19th, 2019
A founding father of snowboarding, described as its soul, has passed away. We look at his remarkable life & assess his influence on snowsports.
Would snowboarding exist without Jake Burton?
Would it be the global lifetstye sport that it is today?
Is he one of the most influential people in snowsports over the past few decades?
Jake Burton died from cancer on Wednesday surrounded by family and friends.
He was 65-years old.
We reported on it with a heavy heart:
Jake Burton didn’t invent the first ‘snowboard’, that accolade belongs to Shermann Poppen who in 1965 came up with something called a ‘snurfer’.
Poppen was an engineer from Michigan and the simply tied two skis together with a rope attached at the front for control.
He made it as a toy for his daughter.
It proved so popular with his daughter’s friends that he went into production.
He sold around 1m in the next decade.
It was a prototype of the snowboard that Burton went on to conquer the world with.
Snurfer competitions then followed and a certain 14-year old called Jake Burton was an earlier devotee of the snurfer and impressed at a Michigan snurfing competition in the late 1970s.
He developed his own bindings for his snurfer to better secure his feet.
It was the start of the snowboard revolution that was to follow with Burton at the forefront.
Jake Burton grew up in Cedarhurst, New York, and moved to Vermont in the mid-70s.
He began trying to refine the snurfer in a barn in and bought industrial tools to try to achieve his goal.
The first model he produced was called the Backhill.
He only sold 300 and considered giving up.
But he stuck with it and the next year he sold 700.
The trouble is resorts didn’t allow snowboarders on its slopes – they were seen as dangerous and the people who rode them were outsiders and rebels.
Many had to hike up and ride the slopes before or after the slopes had opened.
The image of snowboarding was born.
It went on to becoame a lifestyle sport favoured by the young, and that is one the greatest secrets of its success.
Jake Burton made it was a way of life for some and something to aspire to for the many.
In 1983 Jake Burton approached Paul Johnston, then vice president at Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort, to see if the resort would allow the growing army of snowboarders on to its slopes.
The management team gave Burton’s snowboard a go, with limited technical success but they had huge amounts of fun and saw its potential.
The following year the resort allowed snowboarders to ride the lifts and the slopes.
Soon more kids were riding snowboards than clicking into skis and two years later the resort hosted the first major snowboard contest – the US Open.
Other resorts began to take notice and saw the commercial potential in the numbers.
Soon the barn became too small for the demand for Burton’s snowboards and he moved the business to Burlington in Vermont.
Past forward ot the present and the company now employs 950 people and is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise.
He brought snowboarding to the masses and he did it through sport and competitions.
In 1985 the first World Cup was held in Zürs, Austria.
Ross Powers was an early sponsored Burton rider and he won a bronze medal when snowboarding was introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998 at Nagano in Japan.
Four years later he won gold at Salt Lake City.
Burton has sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another – from Shaun White to Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim.
“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said in an interview in 2010.
“We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”In 1983, the first World Championship half-pipe competition was held at Soda Springs, California.
For several years snowboarders would have to take a skills test before being allowed on the slopes.
In 1985 only 7% of ski resorts across the world allowed snowboarding.
In 1990 most major ski areas had separate slopes for snowboarders.
By 2004 there were 6.6m snowboarders in the USA alone.
Today 99% of resorts allow snowboarding, however a few resorts in the USA such as Alta and Deer Valley still ban them.
Virtually every resort across the world has jumps, rails and half-pipes – a legacy of snowboarding propelled into the mountains by Jake Burton.
Burton has been the No1 snowboard brand throughout the sport’s history and instrumental in its development.
What Jake Burton probably never predicted was the profound influence snowboarding would have on skiing.
In the 1980’s people skied with their legs virtually stuck together on long skinny skis.
Within a decade the width of a ski increased, the length shortened, a carved shape was introduced and people began to ski with their legs apart.
The new shaped ski made it easier to ski in powder snow and simpler on the slopes.
Ski design copied snowboard design and never looked back.
And then there was the fashion.
Skiers began to copy what the snowboarders wore with baggy jackets and trousers.
Indirectly Jake Burton had revolutionised skiing.
Here at PlanetSKI we have been scratching our collective heads and asking a few people to think of a man who has influenced snowsports so much in the last few decades.
We can’t think of one.
May you ride in peace Jake Burton.
We salute you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
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